Gene Stratton-Porter was an environmentalist long before it was popular. She was a
founding member of the Izaak Walton League of America. The League was established
by 54 men in 1922. The League is still one of the oldest and most respected conservation
organizations in the country. It is concerned with the conservation of soil, woods, air,
waters and wildlife. Gene was in very good company. In 1923, League members included
Zane Grey, Herbert Hoover, Gov. Pinchot of Pennsylvania, and Gov. Price of Minnesota.
By 1928, the League had over 100,000 members.
This organization was named for Izaak Walton (1593-1683) an English writer and the
father of fly fishing. It was begun in Chicago by a group of fisherman who wanted to
make sure that future generations would have non-polluted waters in which to fish.
Charles and Gene were avid fisherman. It was one of their favorite recreational activities.
In the October 1923 issue of the League’s magazine “Outdoor America,” it contained five
pages of Gene’s writing between its covers. Her first article was on fishing. It was titled
“My Great Day.” She wrote about a fishing trip that she and Charles took to Indian River
which is near the Straits of Mackinac, Michigan. She is so descriptive in her writings of
the area that the reader feels like they are there with her “in the cool, clear air, perfumed
with dank odors and the resin of pine.”
In this same issue, Gene wrote an open letter to President Calvin Coolidge. The letter was
written in opposition to the drainage of the upper Mississippi River bottoms. It was a plea
not to allow this to happen. She was sure that if the President examined the facts he
would not allow this to happen.
In September 1928, Adams County had a memorial celebration to honor Gene Stratton-
Porter who lived in the county from 1886 to 1913. A boulder, called “Elephant Rock,”
was moved from the St. Mary’s River to the courthouse square and a plaque was attached
as a tribute to Gene. She was so well thought of by the Izaak Walton League of America
that the president of the national organization, Dr. Henry B. Ward of Champaign Ill,
came to the memorial and spoke. His entire speech, along with his picture, ran in the
Decatur Daily Democrat in the 11 September 1928 issue.
Dr. Ward told of Gene’s work in promoting careful study of bird and plant life and
conservation of natural resources. He quotes Gene, “This world has never known a
country equal to ours in size, having greater natural beauty of conformation, diversity of
scenery and wealth of animal and plant life.” She was determined to save our natural
resources and to “save every brook and stream and lake.” He stated that “No one has
ever done more to promote widespread interest in nature study throughout our country.”
In 1961, Gene was elected posthumously to the Izaak Walton League Hall of Fame along
with Aldo Leopold and Grace O. Beach. Gene and Grace were the first women so
honored. To quote the Aug-Sep 1961 issue of “Outdoor America,” she received this
award because she “was an advocate of the outdoor life and wrote many articles and
several books, all inspired by her love of nature, wide open spaces and the wildlife that
man abandoned when he began his quest for progress.”
At the time of her death in 1924, Gene was on the national stage in regards to
environmental issues. If Gene’s voice had not been silenced at the age of 61, one wonders
what else she would have accomplished if she had been granted another twenty years.
Writer’s Note: Thank you to Dawn Merritt, Director of Communications, and Leila
Wiles, Librarian, of the Izaak Walton League of America for their help in my research.